8 May 2012, Geneva, Switzerland - Figures from UNOSAT reports indicate that the humanitarian community relied on UNOSAT mapping more in 2011 than in the previous year. Created in 2003, the UNOSAT Humanitarian Rapid Mapping Service has evolved into a fully operational and reliable mapping support for humanitarian operators, both UN and NGOs. 

Since its creation in 2003 the service has been active in over 200 large crises, bothMaps_used_in_Haiti disasters and complex emergencies. The work involves rush acquisition and processing of satellite imagery to generate geographic information and analytical reports in addition to GIS layers in support of UN emergency relief agencies. 

During 2011 UNOSAT undertook 28 rapid mapping activities, up from 25 in the previous year. Both 2010 and 2011 have been characterised by fewer disasters if compared with the previous three years with an average of over 40 activations.

Natural disasters constitute approximately 2/3 of the total activations, while complex emergencies account for about 1/3. In general terms complex emergencies and conflict situations require more support by UNOSAT. While natural disasters typically require 1-2 weeks of support, rapid mapping in a conflict situation can last for several months.

UNOSAT_2011_Stats“In 2011 we had an average of four activations each month with the exception of April, the only tranquil month of last year” says Einar Bjorgo who oversees operational activities at UNOSAT. “The service is based on the assumption that any humanitarian entity can request its activation within a declared humanitarian situation in which the UN has been asked to coordinate international relief. In some of these cases we resort to the support of the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters that is able to provide rapidly satellite data to us at no cost. We then use these data and other imagery from commercial vendors to extract the information required to take decisions and coordinate assistance on the ground.”

Thai_FloodSince 2006 the UNOSAT team has responded to 100% of requests put to UNOSAT by the humanitarian community. Over 40% of such requests emanate from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). 14% of activations were requested directly by member states affected by disasters.

After the acute emergency phase UNOSAT remains engaged by supporting early recovery and reconstructions activities with other dedicated GIS applications including the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

The UNOSAT Overview of Rapid Mapping activities in 2011 will be available for download on the UNITAR website in May 2012.

(All images by UNITAR/UNOSAT)